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Trial underway on using artemisinin to treat lupus

By Wang Xiaodong | China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-18 09:19
[Photo/IC]

A clinical trial on the use of the antimalarial drug artemisinin to treat lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune inflammatory disease, may produce positive results, the Institute of Chinese Materia Medica said on Monday.

Artemisinin is the main ingredient of the combination therapies recommended by the World Health Organization to treat malaria.

Tu Youyou, a researcher at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, won the 2015 Nobel Prize for the discovery of artemisinin.

The trial to use the drug to treat lupus started in May last year after approval from the National Medical Products Administration. The trial is being conducted by 15 organizations, including Peking University First Hospital and Peking Union Medical College Hospital.

About 500 patients from China and overseas have registered to take part in the trial, and the first group has started treatment. No unexpected side effects have been detected in any of the volunteers, said the institute, which is under the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences.

Traditional treatment methods rely on immunomodulatory drugs, but it is difficult to cure the disease using this method, which brings risks of infection. The chances of artemisinin curing the disease may exceed 90 percent, according to the observations of Tu's team, which led the research.

Another two rounds of clinical trials, which will require at least seven years to complete, will be needed before approval procedures begin for its use as a lupus treatment.

It is expected new drugs based on artemisinin will be available on the market as early as 2026 after getting approval, the institute said.

Lupus erythematosus, which causes skin damage, can also cause serious damage to organs such as the kidneys in serious cases, and is very difficult to cure, said Wu Donghai, a professor in rheumatic immunity at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital.

Women of childbearing age are more likely to get the disease, and genetics also play a role in the incidence of the disease, he said.

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